The most important thing we can do to support nervous system health is to engage in good daily habits and dietary practices that especially support good sleep, good digestion, and daily bowel movements. The Ayurvedic Daily Routine (p.1 of Dr. Linden’s Ayurveda Booklet) is a very good roadmap for achieving these goals. In Ayurvedic terms, good habits and routines especially balance Vata dosha (and Rajas mahaguna) which, when unbalanced, will likely show up as anxiety, and affect our sleep and digestion. Vata (and rajas) will also perturb all the other doshas, which will further exacerbate and prolong unpleasant mental/emotional states.
There will be times, times of life/transition, and body/mind types that tend to experience greater challenges with difficult mood states. Some of us are just more sensitive to things like monthly (or peri/menopausal) hormone shifts, or have a strong family history of so-called “mental illness”, or have a history of trauma or adverse childhoods that make us more prone to mental health challenges.
While we should certainly do all we can to diagnose and address the physical and medical reasons we may be experiencing challenging symptoms (such as anemia, thyroid conditions, hormones imbalances, etc), and we should definitely seek professional support for mental health crises, we can all benefit from learning techniques to manage and live with bodies and minds that experience intense emotions and sensations. Below is a list of practices that I have found particularly helpful.
Quick Fix Chart
Anxiety = Vata: Breathwork, warm bath & oil massage, warm tea, compassionate support
Dissociation = Vata: Yoga Nidra, Embodiment practices, warm tea, grounding touch
Depression = Kapha: Breathwork, Exercise/movement, upbeat music, being with other people
Stress = Pitta/Vata: Breathwork, slow graceful movement, healthy sweet flavor, journaling
Irritation/Rage = Pitta: Step away! Cool tea or juice, left nostril breathing, flowers, acupuncture
Ladies, know where you are at in your menstrual cycle so that you know how weekly hormone shifts affect your mood and energy levels! It helps to know what to expect and why you are suddenly experiencing anxiety, depression, sadness, low libido, or anger. Knowing there is a transient physical cause for symptoms can help you to not spiral about the current moment so that you can deal with it and move on.
Keep track of your cycles and symptoms. P-Tracker is my favorite app for this. Report findings to your various healthcare practitioners, especially Ob/Gyns and Chinese Medicine practitioners.
Get the Hormonology app by Gabrielle Lichterman. It will show you how your hormones change and affect your mind/body every day of the month. There is a book by the same author called 28 Days that has even more of the same information. All the information is based on high quality Western research.
Breathwork and Pranayama: There is no quicker and more effective tool for changing your mind/body state than breathwork practices. I spent years looking for the herbal (and even pharmaceutical) cure for anxiety and, after years of rejecting it, had to finally accept that breathwork (I use Wim Hof method) was the most immediately effective treatment for the intense anxiety I can experience. Others have reported similar results and a quickly growing body of research supports its use.
Watch YouTube video tutorials on the Wim Hof breathing method and use the Wim Hof Method app to do a daily and/or as-needed practice. This method is somewhat intense, “crude”, and less subtle than many other methods available, but I find that it works well to “grab the tiger [of intense emotions] by the tail” when in need of a quick fix. Experiencing the effectiveness has been a gateway for me to re-engage with more refined practices I learned from my Ayurveda and Yoga teachers.
Ashley Neese is a trauma informed breathwork/pranayama teacher that has a book, affordable video offerings on her website, and some free YouTube videos.
Kundalini Yoga employs many styles of breathwork to quickly shift mental/emotional states. Go to a local class, consult an experienced teacher, or check out some various videos on YouTube. There are many free/low-cost resources for this method. Below is a Stress Busting Kundalini Meditation with Guru Jagat that I really like:
Essential Oils and aromatherapy can enhance your breathwork practice: Use oils such as lavender or jatamansi for anxiety, lemon for depression, rosemary for mental clarity, or ylang ylang for low libido (it temporarily boosts testosterone!). If you are a patient of mine, I can add these oils to your Wellevate online dispensary account.
“Tapping” or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is very popular and there is good research to support its effectiveness for quickly shifting difficult emotional states.
The Tapping Solution app has free exercises always available
There are many YouTube videos as well: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=tapping+meditation+for+anxiety
Somatic Experiencing, “Embodiment” practices, trauma work, and working with the nervous system to increase our “window of tolerance” is an effective way of working with intense emotional states. I’ve found these approaches to be more holistic and compassionate than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This learning to “be with” unpleasant sensations can have the paradoxical effect of lessening their intensity over time, as much of the unpleasantness we experience is our resistance to fully experiencing these feelings.
These are all practices that need the guidance of a qualified practitioner or teacher to be learned appropriately, but there are good online programs that most functional adults can safely access and benefit from them, especially in conjunction with professional mental health support from a qualified practitioner/therapist.
Basic Embodiment: Often we feel a combination of bodily sensations we label with diagnostic terms like “anxiety” or “depression”. But what are we actually feeling? Usually, it is a shifting cloud of simple bodily sensations, maybe things like tingling, lightness, a racing heart, an odd sensation in our hands, or a heaviness.
Rather than building a story (unless it’s to check the Hormonology app to see what hormone might be contributing to our current state), try simply feeling each sensation fully. You might even make a journal list of each sensation. This helps to both truly ground you into your body, while also getting some appropriate perspective to help pull you out of a spiral or off a ledge.
Irene Lyon is a very knowledgeable resource. She has many YouTube videos/podcasts and has a program called The 21 Day Nervous System Reset that introduces her somatic theory and nervous system practices. You can access her site HERE
Atarah Valentine (formerly a coach with To Be Magnetic) described an effective practice he uses: If he was feeling a strong emotion (loneliness), he would set a timer and fully allow himself to really feel whatever was showing up for him rather than trying to avoid it/run away/suppress it. After the timer went off (maybe 5-15 minutes later), he would then commit to shifting out of the emotional state to move on. This might mean doing some additional breath work/aromatherapy or journaling.
Yoga Nidra is a type of yogic guided meditation similar to hypnotherapy than can help us to relax deeply by grounding into our bodies.
Here is a short one that I really like:
Yoga Nidra for Chakra Balance by Cheryl Fenner Brown and Sharon Olson is my most favorite yoga nidra audio recording. It has usually been available on streaming services, but recently it disappeared from Amazon streaming. It is currently available on Spotify and YouTube -but be cautious about being interrupted by ads. Each chakra meditation is about 35 minutes long. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAR61DHhWLU
In conclusion,there are many, many more options, but these practices I’ve shared above are some that have helped me personally to manage my own anxiety.